Board passes expansive turnaround strategy

Students+from+Thomasville+Heights+Elementary+observe+the+school+board+meeting+on+March+7+where+Superintendent+Dr.+Meria+Carstarphen+announced+the+unanimous+board+decision+passing+a+strategy+to+improve+schools+deemed+%E2%80%98failing%E2%80%99+by+the+state.+The+plan+closes+three+schools%2C+merges+others%2C+and+puts+five+more+schools%2C+including+Thomasville+Heights%2C+under+the+control+of+charter+school+groups.
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Board passes expansive turnaround strategy

Students from Thomasville Heights Elementary observe the school board meeting on March 7 where Superintendent Dr. Meria Carstarphen announced the unanimous board decision passing a strategy to improve schools deemed ‘failing’ by the state. The plan closes three schools, merges others, and puts five more schools, including Thomasville Heights, under the control of charter school groups.

Students from Thomasville Heights Elementary observe the school board meeting on March 7 where Superintendent Dr. Meria Carstarphen announced the unanimous board decision passing a strategy to improve schools deemed ‘failing’ by the state. The plan closes three schools, merges others, and puts five more schools, including Thomasville Heights, under the control of charter school groups.

Students from Thomasville Heights Elementary observe the school board meeting on March 7 where Superintendent Dr. Meria Carstarphen announced the unanimous board decision passing a strategy to improve schools deemed ‘failing’ by the state. The plan closes three schools, merges others, and puts five more schools, including Thomasville Heights, under the control of charter school groups.

Students from Thomasville Heights Elementary observe the school board meeting on March 7 where Superintendent Dr. Meria Carstarphen announced the unanimous board decision passing a strategy to improve schools deemed ‘failing’ by the state. The plan closes three schools, merges others, and puts five more schools, including Thomasville Heights, under the control of charter school groups.

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Students from Thomasville Heights Elementary observe the school board meeting on March 7 where Superintendent Dr. Meria Carstarphen announced the unanimous board decision passing a strategy to improve schools deemed ‘failing’ by the state. The plan closes three schools, merges others, and puts five more schools, including Thomasville Heights, under the control of charter school groups.

Students from Thomasville Heights Elementary observe the school board meeting on March 7 where Superintendent Dr. Meria Carstarphen announced the unanimous board decision passing a strategy to improve schools deemed ‘failing’ by the state. The plan closes three schools, merges others, and puts five more schools, including Thomasville Heights, under the control of charter school groups.

On March 7, 2016 the Atlanta Board of Education unanimously voted to close Bethune Elementary School and to merge both Venetian Hills and Connally elementary schools in the Washington Cluster and Grove Park Intermediate with Woodson Primary in the Douglass Cluster. The school board also recommended bringing in outside partners to improve certain schools in the district as part of an evolving turnaround strategy to avoid having APS schools placed in the Opportunity School District.

In February of 2015, Gov. Nathan Deal proposed the Opportunity School District law that would allow the state to take over what it considers to be failing schools. A “failing” school is one that scores less than a 60 on the College and Career Ready Performance Index for three or more consecutive years. Georgia residents will vote to approve OSD in November.

Superintendent Dr. Meria Carstarphen initially announced a broad turnaround strategy to improve schools eligible for OSD.

Dr. Carstarphen’s strategy includes three tiers: foundational support, intensive support and targeted intervention. The foundational support is for all schools, the intensive support is for the schools at risk of being eligible for OSD and the targeted intervention is for the schools that are currently eligible for being a part of OSD, should the bill be enacted.

The foundational support tier focuses on improving teachers and administrators; the intensive support, in addition to focusing on teachers and administrators, will focus on non-academic needs, and the targeted intervention will focus on all of the above while also providing additional optional tutoring oppor- tunities for students.

“We had to make a choice,” Dr. Carstarphen said. “How much risk did we want to take, waiting until after voters had voted on Nov. 7, and whether or not we wanted to be pro- active so that we would be able to prove, if the OSD went through, that we were able to turn around our schools.”

But at the February board meeting, Dr. Carstarphen introduced an addition to the original turnaround strategy: closing and merging some schools, as well as putting others under the control of charter school groups.

The board said the turnaround strategy was developed by looking at different areas of concern.

APS looked at populations of schools (specifically, if they were 500 students), proximity to near- by schools, performance of near- by schools and test scores.

“The three-tiered approach is still the same,” Dr. Carstarphen said. “[We] said the targeted intervention would have changes in staff and leadership; there would be changes in operating models for our schools. This strategy is just the flesh out of what we’re talking about. It isn’t new.”

According to the board, closing the schools will allow time to reset and create a new innovative academy, which is necessary for the enrollment growth APS anticipates in the coming years. The empty schools are being considered for early development centers.

David Jernigan, deputy superintendent of APS, says that the changes include bringing in certain partners to aid the district with schools that have been struggling to keep up tests scores and attendance in recent years.

APS has identified Rensselaerville Institute’s School Turnaround Program, Kindezi Schools and Purpose Built Schools to assist in turnaround efforts. Rensselaerville would focus on the entire district, Kindezi on Gideons Elementary, and Purpose Built Schools on Thomasville Heights Elementary, Slater Elementary, Price Middle and Carver High.

Jernigan said a committee selected three partners that wanted to be involved in APS from a pool of 27.

“What drew us to Purpose Built Schools specifically is [that] they have a track record of success in Atlanta, with Atlanta students, and we have a great deal of confidence in their leadership,’’ Jernigan said. “ All three are nonprofits, so we felt good about the fact that these are partners who really want to help Atlanta kids.”

Dean Leeper, executive director of Kindezi Schools, said his organization focuses on giving students a better education by providing opportunities they normally wouldn’t get.

“I wanted to give all kids, privileged or not, an equal education,” said Leeper. “There are kids in the public school system who are destined to drop out, and I found that a charter school is the only way you can be innovative in education, so I started one with just six kids in a class, and through a community feel, strong relationships, and a commitment to excellence, we were able to outscore APS significantly in terms of test scores. That’s the basis for our suggested model for Atlanta Public Schools.”

Because the contracts have not yet been written, the project’s exact timeline remains undetermined. Jernigan recognizes, however, that the process may take some time.

“We assume it’ll take several years to effectively turn these schools around,” Jernigan said. “We’re talking about schools that, in several cases, are literally the lowest performing schools in the state, so we know it’s going to take a multi-year effort. ”

Dr. Carstarphen said while the merging of schools and closure of one might be aggressive, it is necessary.

“There are a lot of problems that APS had, but I had to rethink getting those big ideas,” Dr. Carstarphen said. “I had to fix the path while getting rid of all the barriers for the future. The turnaround is all about the future, and these proposals are absolutely in alignment with the kind of ideas that will move APS forward.”

Before the board met to vote on the proposed strategy on Mar. 7, it held multiple community meetings.

At a meeting on Feb. 17 at Connally Elementary, community members expressed mixed feelings about the plan. One parent, Denise Morgan, a Washington High graduate with family currently in APS, said she understood the challenges facing the board.

“I see the good work that they’re doing,” Morgan said. “I believe in [Dr. Carstarphen’s] judgment and the judgment of the board. You don’t want to keep schools that are weak. You want to get the best teachers to educate our students. Bottom line, drill down to the problem. Get the cancer cut out. Talk about the good, the bad and the ugly.”

Many parents, however, disagreed with the proposal. Community advocate and APS graduate Shannon Adams said APS’ proposal is drastic and unnecessary.

“I think that there definitely needs to be more discussion about a model, or different models other than the proposed model,” Adams said. “I don’t think merging schools, [will] equal improved academic performance.”

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